((Disclaimer: Shinichi/Conan, Ran, Kaito, Heiji, and all the rest belong to Gosho Aoyama. Meitantei Conan and Majiku Kaitou are all his! I don't own anything; I'm only borrowing them. Standard legalities apply. Please enjoy!))



Relative Truth
by Becky Tailweaver


File 23: Through the Looking Glass

There was just...so much...stuff.

Not even in the back corner of his father's attic had Shinichi seen this much interesting clutter. Here was an entire room full of things--half of which he could barely identify and half of which he itched to investigate--packed in wall-to-wall and then some, overflowing the floor and hanging from the bare beams above.

And what a dazzling variety of items! Everything that could possibly be associated with the trade of a trickster, an impersonator, a magician, and a thief--stacked high on shelves, piled into bins, hung off racks, loaded onto tabletops, stuffed into boxes...every sort of intriguing gadget, magical doodad, and puzzle-like contraption, all begging to be explored, tried out, played with...

"Woooowww..."

One single, awe-filled whisper seemed the best adjective at the time. Shinichi stared about in utter amazement, the perfect picture of a little kid itching to be turned loose in a brand new toy store.

Standing at his small cousin's side, Kaito allowed a proud grin to spread across his face as he looked down at the wide-eyed boy. "Neat, huh?"

Gape-mouthed, Shinichi glanced up at him, an eager smile tugging at his lips. "Wow...!" he repeated, struggling to regain his voice. "Wh...where did all this come from?"

"It's my dad's," Kaito replied, as if that explained it all. Stepping to the middle of the room--or rather, to the middle of the available floorspace--he spread his arms wide, encompassing every interesting item within the chamber. "It's all his! Everything he put together for Kaitou Kid, absolute tons of his old magic stuff, and disguises, and trick props...everything."

"Can I--can I--?" Unable to properly phrase his avid request, Shinichi gestured vaguely at the piles of stuff. "Could I maybe...?"

Kaito grinned apologetically, dropping his arms to his sides. "I'd love to let you satisfy your curiosity...but...I don't think it's a good idea for you to go poking around in here unsupervised."

"What?" Shinichi looked suddenly indignant. "But I'm not--!"

"It's got nothing to do with your size," Kaito informed him honestly. "Even I haven't checked out everything in here, and I don't want you to lose fingers or anything if you get into something weird back in some dark corner."

"Oh..." The indignant look faded, to be replaced by grudging comprehension--and only a faint amount of petulance.

"Just hang on a sec--I'll get my stuff." Kaito headed over to a nearby section of the room that he had more or less claimed as "his" corner, where he kept his plans, heist mementos, and what bits of disguise and magic that belonged solely to him.

A rather morose sigh from the faux gradeschooler behind him made him chuckle and shake his head. "Come on, I'll let you look at stuff later--I promise. It's not like it's going anywhere--and besides, Mom'll be back soon with the snacks."

"I know, I know..." Shinichi sounded...disappointed as he gazed longingly about, his eyes lingering briefly at the box of card-gun parts, the rack of limp latex masks, the shelf full of listening devices...

With an sigh, Kaito set to going through his stack of notes and plans on his latest heist, pulling out what he thought he'd need to explain it all to his cousin. And then, from the shelf above the table, copies of the blueprints he'd borrowed from the city planning office, all in neat rolls organized according to floor.

As he turned back around, papers in hand, he noticed that his cousin was no longer standing there looking petulantly around at all the neat stuff he'd love to get his hands on...but was gazing steadily at something beyond Kaito, near the desk he'd just fetched his notes from.

"Is that...your dad's box?" the small boy asked, his voice suddenly very, very soft.

"Huh?" Kaito blinked, then glanced back. There, to the side of the table he'd requisitioned as his own, sat a smoothly-polished white trunk, trimmed with silver metalwork. "Oh yeah! I almost forgot! Yup, that's the one--just like your dad's, only white."

"Yeah..." Shinichi was staring at the trunk with a strange sort of apprehension that made Kaito's humor melt away into something more serious.

Memory clicked. "Can you open it?" Kaito asked abruptly.

Shinichi jolted out of his stare a bit, glancing up at him. "Yeah, I can. I opened my dad's trunk."

Something inside him quickened--mabe his heartbeat, maybe that feeling of anticipation. "Show me." Hurriedly, Kaito set his plans back down on the desk and fished about on the messy surface for the various sets of lockpicks and such he knew he'd left there. When he found several smaller picks, he held them out to his small cousin, a gleam of anticipation in his eyes. "Show me you can do it."

Shinichi gave him a puzzled look, glancing at the picks and then back at Kaito's face. "What for?"

"Just...um..." Kaito fidgeted. "It's something Jii told me...and I wanted to see if you..."

"Uh...okay." Shinichi raised an eyebrow, clearly nonplussed, but accepted the tools quietly and looked them over, his fingers settling on two of the smallest picks in his palm.

Kaito watched intently as Shinichi hunkered down in front of the box and began to unlimber the lockpicks, setting down all but the two smallest and maneuvering one into each hand.

Shinichi regarded the trunk for a few moments, his eyes brushing past the large, gaudy padlock on the front and settling on one of the two pieces of plating that hid the real locks beneath. It had taken him a bit to figure it out with his father's black-and-gold chest--but now that he knew what to do, it was simple to slide back the hinged flaps and insert the picks simultaneously into the small openings. It took a little time--this trunk's lock was different, he could feel that as he worked--but not as much as his first try on Yuusaku's box, when he'd had to puzzle everything out on his own.

In a few moments, the two locks snapped as one...and the white chest was open.

He looked up to find Kaito beaming at him as if he'd just won a prize. "You can do it," his cousin said with an appreciative grin. "You really can."

Still puzzled, Shinichi handed the lockpicks back. "What are you so excited about?" he finally asked, confusion giving way to a bit of exasperation. "What's so important about me opening a box, when it would've been much easier just to use the keys?"

"That's not the point." Kaito started to laugh, tossing his lockpicks back onto the messy desktop and reaching out to ruffle the little boy's hair in a manner that made Shinichi grumble and duck away. "Jii told me--this trunk doesn't have any keys!"

Smoothing his mussed hair, the Shinichi blinked. "It...doesn't?"

The chuckling teen grinned at him. "I guess you could call it a Kaitou's Box," he replied, reaching down to pull back the lid. "Jii told me it was made with no keys, and very special locks. Two separate locks, completely different from each other, that have to be picked at the same time." His grin widened as he reached deep inside the box to pull out a slightly-faded, slightly-worn top hat.

An old white top hat. Shinichi gulped, that apprehensive feeling returning again. "So...you have to be...good at lock-picking...and ambidextrous...and...able to solve two different puzzles at once..."

Kaito set the white hat on his own head, pulling it low and rakishly as Kid was wont to do, his grin fading into the thief's mysterious smile. "You've just about got it, cousin," he replied, his voice lowered and softened as it had been the first time the two had ever spoken--Kid and Conan, on a cold windy hotel roof far from here. "To open that trunk, you have to be one of us."

Something in Shinichi's troubled gaze seemed to flinch, and his entire face closed down in a way that was far too sharp for such a little boy's features. "I know that--you don't have to keep reminding me!" he snapped abruptly, his tone suddenly raw. "I don't care what I'm supposed to be, but I'm never going to be anything like you! And I'm never going to be proud of any of this...this whole...!" His small hands flailed toward the room around them in an all-encompassing gesture, helpless to put into words the entirety of his questionable birthright.

"This whole family," you mean? I never expected you to embrace it like me, but...are you really that ashamed of your heritage? Struck, not voicing his own bitter thoughts, Kaito stared at him in rebuffed silence; the look of the Kid vanished into that of a saddened teen, hurt by his small cousin's sudden, heated rejection. "Shinichi...that's not what I meant...honest..."

"Stop pushing it at me!" Shinichi spat at him, arms rigid at his sides, his voice gone shrill with anger and...something else. "I don't want it! I never wanted any of this--!"

A firm rap on the painting/door to the room made them both jump around, equally startled. "Kaito? Shin-chan? Are you two in there? I've brought the snacks!"

Fumiyo's voice was like cool water on a flame; the heat between the two of them petered out and vanished, leaving faint injuries that quickly began to ease themselves. Almost guiltily, Kaito removed the worn old hat and set it back in the box, firmly closing the polished white lid and letting it lock.

"It's Mom," he sighed, stating the obvious as though to remind himself--and rather relieved that it wasn't somebody else. He glanced down at his cousin, taking in the small form standing head-down, rigid arms gone slack. "Shinichi...I'm sorry...I didn't mean it like that--"

"It's nothing," Shinichi replied, turning away toward the door. "My fault. Never mind."

Concerned, and only halfway hiding it, Kaito watched him for a moment before he gathered up his papers and blueprints and followed him back to the secret door. "Um...Shinichi, if you don't really want to do this, I'll take you back home--"

"I said never mind," the boy stated flatly, his tone not betraying one emotion or another, just simply dull. "And I said I would, didn't I? I keep my word." He then glared up at the painting/door for a moment, frowning. "Just...how do you open it?"

"Like this," Kaito replied, hiding his short laugh behind what could have been a cough or a snort. He shifted his armload of blueprints and papers and reached out to place his hand once more against the two-sided painting. With yet another soft click the door opened again, letting in the light from the rec room--as well as Fumiyo's smiling, concerned face.

"There you are!" she greeted them. "Goodness, that reminds me--it must be simply awful in there. I haven't cleaned anything since Toichi passed away..."

"It's okay, Mom." Kaito stepped out, leaving Shinichi to hold the door open as he set his burdens aside. "I did a bit of cleaning when I started working in there. Well, there's still a lot of dark corners...but it's not as bad as you think."

"Not bad," Shinichi added with a snort, poking his head out the door. "Just a few dust bunnies as big as I am."

Kaito grinned down at his cousin, reaching back through to lift him out. "Then they must not be all that big, huh?"

"Shut uuup..." The small boy rolled his eyes. "When I get back to my real size again, I'm gonna have a talk with you about that."

"Ooooh, look at me shaking..."

"Yeah, yeah...so put me down already."

Fumiyo laughed softly, surprising them both. Kaito blinked at his mother briefly--he hadn't heard her giggle like that in quite a while; it was a lot like how happy she was to be spending time with Yukiko again. Shinichi--still clutched in Kaito's arms like a dangling kitten--seemed startled just to be laughed at, and while having an argument no less.

When Fumiyo's laughter finally stopped, she wiped her eyes and looked at them with a mixture of happy reminiscience and melancholy memory--and perhaps not all the tears were from laughter. "I'm sorry," she said, smiling at them. "You two just remind me so much of...Toichi and Yuusaku..."

The mention of the two missing fathers made the boys go still and quiet, not quite frowning. The feelings evoked in both of them were bittersweet indeed, just as it must have been for Fumiyo; a reminder of broken bonds and happier times all at once, the kinds of memories that often drew both tears and smiles.

Seeing their reactions, Fumiyo was quick to shake her head, scolding herself for being nostalgic. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I really am...I just remember so many times when we were younger--Toichi and Yuusaku would go on at each other like that, in their big-brother little-brother way, and Yukiko and I couldn't even get them to stop at the dinner table..." She laughed softly, shortly, again. "Sorry to have brought that up...oh--I brought snacks enough for two hungry boys. Help yourselves!"

The two of them blinked again at her sudden smile, as she dabbed at the last of her laughter tears and turned away to point them at the large tray of food on the little low table she'd brought in and set down. There were two plates piled high with two different kinds of cookies--and a pot of the promised warm tea to drink, two cups, and plentiful napkins.

Kaito's eyes went wide, any frowns lost in a sudden look of delight. "You made chocolate chip cookies?"

"Kaito...hey, are you listening? Attention please..." As his cousin stared, enraptured, at the treats awaiting them, Shinichi wriggled in his grip, complaining. "Hey! I'd like my feet back on the floor, if you don't mind."

"Huh? Oh..." As if he'd completely forgotten he was still holding the smaller boy--and in the face of chocolate-chip cookies, he most likely had--Kaito set him down, looking somewhat abashed. "Sorry."

Smoothing his rumpled shirt, Shinichi fixed him with a look. However, that look quickly shifted into a mischievous grin that took Kaito completely by surprise. "Gotcha!" the boy smirked, for the second time that evening--and darted over to the snack tray like a shot.

"Hey!" Kaito squawked, left flat-footed for a moment before lurching after him. "No fair! Dibs on the chocolate chips! Hey, no! Don't eat them all!"

Fumiyo burst out laughing at the two of them fighting over the snack platter. Much to Kaito's horror, Shinichi had beaten him to the plate of chocolate chip cookies and snatched one up to gobble it. In retaliation, Kaito snatched at him, and managed to drag the boy away from the tray. Shinichi let out a muffled protest--very muffled, since with his mouth full of cookie he looked rather like a small chipmunk.

"Boys, boys!" she called into the fracas, raising her voice to be heard over Kaito's complaints and Shinichi's mumblings--well, yelling, once he swallowed his mouthful. Once she elicited some quiet she stood over them amusedly with hands on her hips. "I know you've both been spoiled only-children your whole lives, but if you expect to work together you're going to have to learn how to share. Really, I thought you'd learned that in preschool..."

Embarassed, both of them separated, Shinichi brushing cookie crumbs from his chin and looking almost surprised at himself. "Sorry, Obasan."

"I'm the last person who's going to chide you for having fun, Shin-chan," Fumiyo replied, smiling reassuringly at him. "But it's getting later, and I know you'll have to go home sooner than you want to."

"If he won't eat all the snacks, I'll go get the stuff," Kaito piped up with a miffed glare at the cookie thief.

At long last, Shinichi gave into the boyish urge to stick his tongue out. Snorting, Kaito replied in kind, heading back across the room to fetch the almost-forgotten stack of blueprints and plans. Fumiyo helpfully gathered a few cushions and two bean bag chairs and brought them over by the snack tray.

"Thanks, Mom," Kaito said, plopping down on the soft chair and setting his load down on the bare floor. "Here we are--one safe-storage facility, blueprints and initial data." Sorting the rolls and the papers out in some semblance of order, he concentrated on his task for a moment before glancing up at the others, just briefly, his nimble hands hesitating. "Um...not used to doing this stuff with people..."

"Don't mind me," Fumiyo told him. "Your father and I used to talk about such things all the time. I don't even bat an eye, really."

Kaito raised an eyebrow at her--then glanced at his cousin, who stood across from him, looking down at the charts with some trepidation. "Uh, Shinichi, you don't..."

"No." The boy shook his head, interrupting Kaito's hesitant words. He sidled over and sat down in the second bean bag chair, small knees drawn up and his arms folded around them. "Just...just go on. I said I would."

With an indistinct--and not entirely sincere--shrug, Kaito went back to laying out the papers. "This is what I've got--been casing the place for almost a month. It's pretty tight, a nice private well-funded facility."

"Do you have all the information?" Shinichi asked, uncurling a bit to lean forward. "Number of guards, shift changes, employee schedules, police response, that sort of thing?"

"Ummm..." Kaito leafed through several papers, searching. "I thought I had at least some of that...where the hell did I put it?" Looking suddenly chagrined, he winced at his mother's frown at his use of language. "Sorry... Shoot, I must've left it in my room. I'll be right back--don't eat all the cookies!"

With a hop and a leap, the young thief was out the door, and his thumping footsteps could be heard heading rapidly down the hall and up the stairs. When he was gone, Shinichi stared down at the blueprints and sighed.

There was silence for a while, as Fumiyo's easygoing air began to fade into a motherly look of concern. She watched the small boy at her feet for long moments, seeing how still he was, spotting the tension in his narrow shoulders.

"Shin-chan..." she began softly, quietly, so as not to be heard outside this room.

"Mm?" He didn't look up.

Fumiyo didn't beat about the bush; she wasn't like that. She got straight to the point. "I heard raised voices in there. Was everything all right?"

The small form flinched--he knew what she was talking about. "It's...nothing, Obasan. It's fine."

"Shin-chan..." She didn't believe him for a minute. She knelt down at his side, touching his small shoulder. "Kaito doesn't want to force you into anything. If this is making you that uncomfortable, just say so. You don't have to do this."

He almost seemed to tremble under her touch, still tense. "I-it's not that," he confessed quietly. "I just...don't know...what..." He let out an exasperated breath. "I don't even know what I'm trying to say..."

"Did Kaito do something to make you angry?" Fumiyo asked. "I'll make sure he apologizes if he--"

"No!" Shinichi turned to face her at last, shaking his head. "No--it's not him. And...it is. I don't know..."

Fumiyo remained silent, knowing from long experience in raising her own son that all her nephew needed was time to speak.

Shinichi glanced down again, swallowing. "It's almost like...he's trying to push me into this...or make me into something...but he's not. He hasn't done anything like that...it's just...God, I can hardly explain it. He...he said something about being 'one of us' and..." His voice faded to an embarassed whisper as he ducked his head. "I just got so scared for a second...I yelled at him...and I didn't mean to, I just..."

"Shin-chan, it's okay." She squeezed his shoulder comfortingly.

"But it's not!" he protested, barely raising his head. "I snapped at him like that...and he really hasn't made me do anything--he just leads the way and I keep following...I shouldn't be doing this, and I know that, but I just keep following him...and I don't know why..."

Fumiyo regarded him silently for several seconds. "My son would never make you do something you didn't want to do," she told him softly. "Honestly, Shin-chan...he thinks the world of you. If it seems like he's pulling you in...well, he probably is, but not in the way you might think."

His gaze flicked up to her, shadowed and wondering.

"He's...trying to pull you closer, I think," Fumiyo went on quietly. "Kaito has always been just a little bit lonely...especially since he took up his father's mantle. To hear him talk...oh, sometimes he just goes on, he's so excited about being able to know you. I hardly ever see him...shine like that, since his father died. And you two are so alike, just like your fathers were, and maybe even more--like you could be kindred spirits, too..."

Shinichi's blue eyes were wide, troubled and contrite. "Obasan, I didn't mean to yell at him."

"Shin-chan, it's okay..." Fumiyo touched his cheek lightly before drawing back.

The sound of a light cough brought both of them around. Kaito stood in the doorway, a sheaf of paper in hand, looking solemn. "I, uh, brought the stuff," he offered quietly.

Clearing her throat, Fumiyo stood up. "All right then!" she said brightly, bringing back a smile worthy of the acting skills of Yukiko Kudo herself. "I'll leave you be--no fighting, now, you hear? Or else I'll take the cookies away and separate you two."

Shinichi fought off a smile, and Kaito snorted. "Yes, Mom," he said obediently.

Fumiyo stepped to the door, pausing to pick up the towel that had been discarded there on the floor. She glanced back at Shinichi as she did, with a soft, understanding smile. Then she was gone, humming softly as she vanished down the hall.

If Kaito had overheard anything, he didn't mention it. He stayed remarkably quiet, however, as he dropped back to his spot on the bean bag chair and spread out the handful of notebook paper he'd brought with him.

After a few moments of silence, Shinichi cleared his throat. "Kaito?"

"Hm?" The young magician looked up from his notes as he laid them out carefully in order.

"Back there...in your dad's room...I'm sorry I..."

"It's fine. Just forget about it." With a strangely genuine smile and a final shrug, Kaito sat back and surveyed his work. "Here you go. This is all the rest of the information I have--the guards and employees, when their rotations are, where their patrol patterns go...the only thing I don't have is police response, but that's not an issue. When I go in, they should already be there."

Cocking an eyebrow at the gleam in his cousin's eye, Shinichi picked up the sheet detailing guard posts and rotations. "How do you get this stuff, anyway?"

"Good old-fashioned legwork," Kaito answered offhand. "A few well-placed questions, a little undercover investigation, a quick peek at the secretary's files...and you'd be surprised how easily people open up to a pretty face."

Now Shinichi was really giving him a look. "I do not want to know."

Kaito just snickered. "All that aside, here's the game plan: This is a pretty tight lock-box, so I've got to get in, open the correct safe, fetch the target, and get back out with enough clearance to disappear."

"Pretty tight, huh? That's an understatement..." Carefully comparing the notes on the patterns of the guards with the blueprints themselves, Shinichi raised his eyebrows. "Getting in and out of here is going to be pretty tough, even for you. It's just one dead end after another."

Kaito leaned over the blueprint. "Yeah. Whoever designed this place did their job--few windows, tons of blind hallways, a lot of auto-locking doors, all different sorts of locks from combos to keys to fingerprints...it's a mess. I don't know how they manage to get anything done there, but they do. It's designed to make a thief's job harder, that's for sure."

"I assume you've already checked off the ventilation system." It was not a question; the boy's small finger traced the lines of a duct shaft with a disapproving look.

Kaito nodded. "Yup. Too small for anybody to fit through. You might, though..."

"Watch me not volunteer." Shinichi tossed him a sardonic glance. "This is your nut to crack, Kaito."

"Aw, I thought you were here to help..." The teenaged thief put on his best puppy-faced look.

"I am helping." Shinichi glanced back down at the building diagram, then at another sheet of note paper to one side. "You won't have any trouble with the key or combination locks, but the fingerprint ones are another matter."

"They can be fooled, but it doesn't always work, and it's a pain if it doesn't." With a shrug, Kaito leaned back on his bean bag chair. "The problem is, there's three of them between me and the shortest route in or out of my target's safe. I might get lucky with two of them, then get royally screwed on the third..."

"Too chancy, then."

"It's not that I can't do it--I could, you know."

"Look, if I was on the receiving end of this heist, I'd have you the moment you showed your fluttery cape in that building," Shinichi stated, looking his cousin flatly in the eye.

"Ooo, that sounds like a challenge," Kaito shot back with a grin. "Wanna try it?"

Shinichi blinked at him for a second. "You mean you want me to hand you your ass in a top hat?"

"Confident, aren't we?"

"Look who's talking." The small boy frowned at the young thief. "Seriously, do you want to take a chance on some police detective getting lucky?"

"They've never been lucky before, but..." With a sigh, Kaito's chuckles died down. "Yeah, I would really be asking for it if Hakuba showed up."

"Which safe is it?"

"Third floor," Kaito replied, leaning forward to point at a numbered rectangle on the blueprint. "This one."

"Hm." Shinichi once more scanned the blueprint, absentmindedly munching on a cookie. He focussed on the target safe, the hallway, the stairwell, the multiple doors, the locks and the wiring. "No windows here," he commented softly, almost to himself. "And I'll bet the doors automatically lock down if the power goes out."

Kaito cocked an eyebrow, glancing at the page of his notes which contained that data--one that Shinichi had not seen. "Bingo."

Shinichi finished the cookie, still tracing the blueprint carefully with his eyes as if memorizing it. Kaito remained silent, curious, watching him intently though the boy did not notice the scrutiny at all, focussed on the papers in front of him. Ignoring Kaito's observation, Shinichi picked up one page of notes, then another, comparing the information there to the actual locations and dimensions on the blueprint.

Finally, the small boy looked up from his calculations. "I think it's too risky," he stated at last, looking Kaito in the eye.

The teenage thief blinked at him for a moment, then threw up his hands with a snort, dropping his note pages. "Oh, that helps a lot! Sheesh, I didn't ask you to come here and tell me it can't be done. Look, I can do it--with or without you. I just wanted you to tell me what you thought--"

"That is what I think, baka," Shinichi retorted, breaking into his cousin's indignant grumbling. "See? Their guard patterns are overlayed--no hallway is ever unguarded, even during a shift change. And even if you disguised yourself as a guard and snuck in that way--which would be very hard since the guards have no reason to enter the inner safe halls and you would be questioned--if you messed up on cracking the safe itself the alarm would go off and you'd be under lockdown. Full lockdown. That means no fooling the print locks, because they shut down. And there's no windows to get out. Do you understand?"

"I already know that," Kaito replied, frowning at Shinichi's intent glare. "That's why I asked you if you had any ideas. Like I said, I don't need you to tell me it can't be done--a phantom thief is supposed to do the impossible..."

"I didn't say it couldn't be done." The small boy looked down at the blueprint, then pulled forth one of Kaito's note sheets, this one marked out in a calendar. "I just said that going in would be too risky."

Kaito blinked again. "Then...what are you talking about?"

"Simple." Shinichi looked up at him again, this time with a rather clever little smile. "Why don't you make them bring it out for you?"

"For me...?" Kaito opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again, looking perplexed. "Uh, I know Kid can be persuasive, but I don't think just asking them is gonna work..."

"Idiot. It's right here." Picking up another paper, this one with rotation schedules on it, Shinichi scooted over to Kaito's side and placed the calendar sheet in his cousin's hands. "Look. The only person who's authorized to open those safes is the storage building's owner, right? And he can only do that when the owner of the safe's contents is with him--the two-key system. And they have a schedule for that, too--see? They only open safes on Sundays and Thursdays. That makes things nice and simple."

"So...you're saying I should masquerade as the jewel's owner?" Kaito asked, peering at the hand-written calendar. "That...would take some work. I'm sure they'd want all sorts of ID and stuff..."

Shinichi shook his head. "No, I already thought of that, and it wouldn't work. You'd have to go get the key from the owner, and you're right--you'd have to come up with some kind of credentials, and that goes into forgery I'm sure neither of us wants to chance."

"So then, how...?"

"Both owners can do your work for you," Shinichi replied, an almost-eager glimmer to his eyes. "It's easy--look, right here. The safe-storage's owner is going out of town the end of next week for his daughter's wedding. He's going to be gone for two weeks."

"And that helps us how?"

Shinichi shook his head. "Why are you being so dense? If you were the owner of a big important jewel and you got a message from Kaitou Kid stating that it was going to be stolen from its safe, what would you do?"

"Call the cops, for one thing..."

"Yeah, and what else?"

"I'd..." Kaito blinked once more, comprehension dawning. "I'd get my jewels the hell out of that safe and hide them somewhere before Kid arrived."

"He finally gets it!" With a boyish laugh, Shinichi grinned at him. "I can't believe you didn't think of that! It's so obvious--just send a note that panics the jewel's owner, and he'll rush to get his valuables out before the storage owner leaves. They'll be walking that stuff right out the very front door--easy pickings for you. And out in the open you can be as flashy as you like."

Kaito stared at the schedule, the calendar, then at his small cousin. "Shinichi...you're...an absolute genius, you know that?"

Shinichi caught the joking smile and grinned again. "I've been accused of that occasionally."

"You're right, I can't believe I didn't think of that," Kaito chuckled shaking his head. "But then again, I'm used to figuring ways of getting in, not tricking people into getting things for me."

"Why not? It's almost the same thing you did to make Inspector Nakamori tell you where they hid the Memories Egg," Shinichi said with a shrug. "Only then you used your actions to trick them into giving you their location, not your words."

"So you're just suggesting I take it a step further here." In celebration, Kaito snatched a couple of cookies. "I send a riddle that makes them think I'm coming for their goods, they take the goods and run, only I'm there waiting to pick their pockets as they scurry out the front door..." He chomped a cookie, suddenly thoughtful. "I've gotta know for sure when they go for it."

"That's easy," Shinichi replied with a shrug. "Send your little note so that it arrives just before the owner's last day. Here...if you send it after next Sunday, the only day they'll have left to act is the following Thursday--and then the owner leaves for two weeks. They won't chance that. Set your date for that Thursday."

"How can you be sure they won't just lock things down tighter?"

"They won't." Shinichi grinned again. "Your reputation's going to do the talking this time. They know Kid doesn't fail, so they'll think that you can go right past all those locks and alarms. They'll panic, and they'll want to get their belongings out and hide them from you."

"Damn..." Kaito shook his head. "You sure know how to mess with people's minds. You'd be downright scary if you were a real thief."

"Don't even go there." Shinichi's grin disappeared into a frown. "And look who's talking--you're the one who freaks people out with flash grenades and smoke and mirrors."

"Yeah, but that's...well...tricking people is one thing," Kaito stated softly, glancing at the sketchy calendar. "And I can do that. I do it all the time. But this idea of yours is more like...like..."

"Manipulation?" Shinichi finished for him. "Yeah, I know. But I actually do this sort of thing all the time. I have to use words to trap my suspects into taking the wrong step--what else do I have? I can't pop around with a top hat and steal a confession like you steal a gem."

"I guess..." Kaito shrugged vaguely; Shinichi's idea, while brilliant, skirted the edge of his comfort zone in terms of what he viewed as "fair" during a heist. And it almost didn't seem very fair to trick these men into all but handing him their belongings. It wasn't like sneaking in under Nakamori's nose to make a crown jewel vanish in a puff of smoke--it was like telling a total lie to force someone's hand, to make them move out of their place and into his own trap. Granted, he did stuff sort of like that during his heists...but nothing like this.

"Well, there you have it," Shinichi announced, finishing off another cookie and flopping back on the cushion next to Kaito. "You asked what I think, and that's it."

"Yeah, thanks," Kaito replied, leaning back on his hands to regard the boy. "It's a great idea, even if it's a bit unconventional for me."

Shinichi gave a snort of laughter. "Never thought I'd hear you call something unconventional."

"Well, it is," Kaito retorted lightly. "The most I'm used to is tricking people into showing me where they hid something--not into actually handing me the goods."

"Do it your way if you like." Shinichi shrugged, trying to look unconcerned, although a flicker of worry briefly darkened his eyes.

Kaito caught that flicker, even as he pretended to ignore it. "Naw...I think I'll try your idea." What a change. It almost feels weird, knowing you really don't want me to get caught. But...it feels good, too... "Heh. This could really be interesting, you know? Bet it'll give Inspector Nakamori fits. I wonder what other nifty ideas you've got up your sleeves, huh?"

At his cousin's snicker, Shinichi let the corner of his mouth quirk. "Plenty that could still catch you even if you used my plan."

"Yeah, right..."

The two of them turned to glance at one another, sharing an unexpected grin--a playful, rogueish grin that was equal parts challenge, agreement, and acceptance, mirrored on both faces and dancing in both sets of dark blue eyes. There were sparks to it, as well as mirth; it was the grin of children and thieves at play.

Shinichi would probably never realize how much of the kaitou was in his grin. Kaito saw it, but he never said a word.

"Is the tea still hot?" Shinichi asked, sitting up again.

Kaito's reached out with a longer arm to touch the pot. "Not hot...um, sorta warm?"

"That's fine." The small boy scooted over to the tray--long since emptied of all but a couple of cookies--and started pouring himself a cup. "I need something to drink after all this talking."

"I better start putting all this junk away," Kaito said, picking up a few sheets of notebook paper to begin putting things back in order. It wouldn't do for anyone to stumble across his little trove of plans.

"Is that it?" Shinichi glanced at him over the rim of his cup.

"Pretty much. I think you covered all the bases." Kaito grinned at his small cousin again, eliciting a quirked eyebrow. "All that's left for me to do is work out a riddle and put my equipment together for the heist."

The teen thief did not miss the definite gleam in the little boy's eyes at the word "equipment." Really, he'd had no idea his cousin was so entranced by the tools of the Trade. "You can help with that too, if you like," Kaito offered, hiding his humorous smile.

"Really?" The exclamation burst out before Shinichi could rein his voice in, making him flush at his own over-eagerness. "I mean, all those gadgets and things you use have got to be fairly interesting..."

Kaito managed to contain his amusement to a single snort. "Fairly interesting. Wanna come by again sometime and see?"

"Sure, I could do that." The boy continued to feign only vague interest.

"Great. Now come help me carry this stuff."

Shinichi rolled his eyes--since when did a high school student need help from a shrimpy first grader?--but set down his mostly-empty cup and complied. He carried folders of papers while Kaito carefully rolled up the blueprints and bore them back to the secret door. Once there, Kaito lifted his small cousin through the entrance and passed the items to him, making the work much quicker than when the young thief did it on his own and had to fight the spring-loaded revolving door.

Inside, the pair set their burdens down at Kaito's desk; Kaito himself began to sort the papers back into the semi-messy filing system he had there--making certain to keep the blueprints uncreased--while Shinichi watched boredly.

Watched--that is, until an oh-so-interesting bit of shape caught his eye from a small box on a shelf beside where Kaito worked. His ever-present curiosity grabbed his attention by the nose, and in a moment he was right there, heaving himself up on one of the shelves, using it as a ladder to peer over the rim of the box.

"...gotta remember to clean this up someday," Kaito grumbled to himself as he attempted to keep his rather precarious stacks of paper, files, notes, and perhaps even lost homework from tipping off the desk as he worked. He kept half an eye on his curious cousin--which became a full eye the moment the small boy poked his nose into the box. "Careful there, those are a bit explosive."

Shinichi blinked, but didn't withdraw. "Flash grenades?" he inquired, still eyeing the many small, ovoid shapes.

"Bingo. Don't knock 'em off the shelf, okay?"

"Right..." Giving the box a wide berth, Shinichi turned his persual to another next to it. "And it looks like smoke bombs here. You make these yourself?"

"Mostly," Kaito replied absently, paging through one last folder to decide where to put it. "Jii gets the stuff for me."

"What's with all the colors?" Shinichi leaned out from the shelf to glance at his cousin. "I mean, really--pink smoke bombs?"

Kaito flashed him a grin, turning to lean against the edge of the desk. "It's all about effect, my friend. The flashbombs come in colors too--helps me create the right atmosphere for every job. If I wanna be brisk, I pick blue or purple; if I wanna be creepy, I pick green."

"What about pink?"

"Oh, that's the old stock-in-trade--good for every fun, happy occasion."

Shinichi shot him a look. "It's pink."

Kaito just grinned.

"So you make all these yourself," Shinichi went on, going back to the boxes on the shelves. "Then they have to be from things you can get at a chemistry or fireworks store..."

"Most of them. Other things...Jii says it's best if I don't ask. At least not yet."

"Hm." Bits of shiny metal caught his gaze above; without hesitating, Shinichi pulled himself up another shelf to look into that box. "Cable pulleys? Is this--awp!"

He was cut off when Kaito jumped forward, catching the small boy beneath the arms and pulling him away from the shelf. "Take it easy, eager beaver. You're gonna knock the whole thing over."

As he was placed back on the floor, Shinichi gave the shelf unit a wistful, disgruntled stare. "You have no idea how annoying it is to be short," he grumbled, casting about for something interesting closer to ground level.

Kaito shrugged apologetically. "I just don't want you to fall. Or blow up my dad's room if you spill the boxes."

"Give me some credit. I've been climbing on stuff for a long time now. Out of necessity." Shinichi glanced with distaste at the full-length mirror by the entrance--frowning at the small shape reflected there-- then stood still, hands in pockets, to stare at the painting that graced the back of the revolving door.

Not the warm, playful, smiling depiction of his uncle, the famous Toichi Kuroba--but a shadowed, kinetic, mysterious image of Kaitou Kid. An enigmatic phantom caught for an instant--a moment in time, a freeze-frame of the ever-shifting Kid, suspended in oil paint. It could have been Toichi or Kaito; Kid was Kid, features indistinguishable but for the moonlit flash on the monocle.

It reminded Shinichi of his first face-to-face meeting with the phantom thief, tickling goosebumps onto his skin at the memory of the cold wind and the starlit form of his nemesis.

But Kid wasn't an enemy now. Kaito wasn't. More than he ever would have thought possible even two weeks ago, he was deeply involved in the conspiracy that was the Kid--the conspiracy that was his own family. They were friends now, he and Kaito--he'd become as relaxed around his cousin as he was around any of his closest companions.

Why then did this image make him tingle all over, make his muscles tighten with the faint edges of adrenaline, make his heartbeat kick up a notch as if in anticipation...

...of what?

Kaito watched his diminutive cousin stare at the image of the notorious thief, noting the boy's strange keen edge and expectant gaze. It was the strangest mirror, he pondered to himself; somehow the child and the phantom seemed like genuine reflections. More hidden than himself, of course--but still there, if one knew how to look.

He was gripped by the sudden desire to see it clearly, and to share, and in a fit of impulsiveness he grasped his own hat from the stand by the desk and tossed it with a magician's accuracy. It seemed to float across the distance between himself and his target, suspended in the air like a fluttering dove before it came softly to rest.

Shinichi jumped when something light dropped onto his head--something hollow and silk-smooth that fell down around his ears, resting on his nose, blocking his vision. Startled, he grasped at it, finding his hands closing on the brim of a hat. Blinking, he pushed it back enough to see; puzzled, he glanced over at Kaito, who stood near the hat-rack, smiling at him. It was a strange smile, mixing the daunting phantom thief with a lonely teenage boy, and the gentle welcome of a brother.

Then the mirror next to him caught the corner of his eye--just a flash of movement--and he glanced at it. Shock chilled him for half a moment, seeing his own little-boy form wearing the bright white top hat of Kaitou Kid. For the other half of that moment, all he could do was stare at the unforgiving image the mirror presented him with, the blue-eyed, top-hatted visage of--of--

"It kinda suits you."

Kaito's low voice made him jerk; though he had spoken with a wryly contemplative tone, to Shinichi it was as if his cousin had flung hateful, venomous words in his face. His temper flared hot once again, and his small hands ripped the hat from his head as if preparing to throw it to the ground.

"I am not--!"

The barest beginnings of his ragged, angry shout was cut off by the profound Poker Face that slammed down on Kaito's features like a mask--a shield, a hand flung up to ward off a charging aggresor. Though the youth never outwardly moved, it was as though he had taken many long steps backward.

He had already been rebuffed harshly once today; he did not want his entreating hand slapped away yet again...

Seeing his cousin withdraw, Shinichi stopped; his anger sputtered away, his guilt from his earlier outburst overshadowing it. He suddenly felt horrible--attacking his cousin for nothing more than an opinion expressed, getting all bent out of shape for nothing but the truth...

His hands relaxed on the brim of the hat. Kaito's eyes were so flat, as if Shinichi had become some stranger on the street; unable to bear his cool gaze, the boy looked down at the hat in his hands, at the dusty floor, already ashamed of his outburst.

"Kaito...I..." His fingers trailed over one of the tiny nicks in the hat's brim, though his preoccupied conscious mind didn't actively wonder what had made it. "I'm sorry."

Since he was looking down, he didn't see the hesitant flicker in Kaito's eyes--a rabbit peeping from a burrow. "It's okay," the teen thief replied, as if discussing the weather. "I guess I was pushing it again."

"It's not okay," Shinichi retorted, still kicking himself. "I keep flying off the handle at you for no good reason, just because--"

"You've had a tough time the last few days," Kaito interrupted, his voice softening a little. "And I haven't been real considerate of that, I guess. I don't blame you for snapping when I poke you where it hurts."

Shinichi flinched. "I should be over that by now..."

A sigh from Kaito made him look up. When he did, he was almost surprised to see the relaxing of the mask--slowly, surely, the Poker Face was melting. "You and me," his cousin said, "we're pulling different directions--maybe that's why we keep rubbing the wrong way. You're still not sure and you're testing the waters. I'm the one who's all gung-ho and ready to dive in."

Shinichi shrugged fitfully, glancing once more at the mirror--at the small figure holding the hat. "I've never had such a hard time just...dealing with something," he confessed uncomfortably. "Not even Conan. This...this is..."

Kaito remained silent, fighting off the unfamiliar creeping of guilt. He really was pushing too hard, and he knew that. But part of him was just so glad to have found something like a kindred spirit, it was hard not to want to pull Shinichi full speed into his own world.

"I'm sorry," the small boy said softly, fingering the hat brim. "And I mean that. It's not you I'm mad at...it's...I guess...it scares me how much a piece of me enjoys this. Even if I know I shouldn't take part in something like this..."

"But you are part of this," Kaito blurted, surprising both himself and Shinichi, who looked up again. Chagrined at his slip, the young thief pressed on bravely, half expecting another flaming outburst from his cousin. "Like it or not...whether you knew it or not...you are a part of this. Part of this family. You were in this just like me, and even if your dad took you away you're still part of this, and you can't change that."

Shinichi stared up at Kaito for long moments, wide eyes searching, reading. His hands tightened on the brim of the top hat as he saw the pleading Don't go away in his cousin's half-guarded gaze; with that thread of empathy came sudden understanding that dawned like the sunrise itself.

"I'm not a thief," he stated firmly, allowing his lips to form the faintest smile, "but I am your cousin. I'm not denying who I am, and I'm not denying you. I don't think a thief's methods are the right ones, but I'm not going to walk out on you just because we disagree. Family...has to mean more than that."

Kaito did an admirable job of hiding the relief in his expression--long practice being a major help. He smiled for the first time since the beginning of the outburst, a glimmer of his accustomed humor returning. "Yeah..." he agreed, standing up from the desk edge. "Even if you're the only detective in a whole family of thieves...I guess I can see past that one fault." He grinned now, almost teasingly. "The Kuroba ancestors must be turning backflips in their graves--Heaven forbid, one of our own went and turned law-abiding!"

Shinichi's smile wavered for an instant--as if his hard-won progress was about to collapse once again--before he thrust aside his hesitations and returned his cousin's smile. "I guess I am the black sheep of the family. Or a white sheep in a whole family of black ones..."

At Kaito's chuckling snort, Shinichi's smile became an equal grin, something of the kaitou's edge creeping into it once again, daring and bold. His uncertainty and trepidation seemed to have withdrawn to a far away place, giving him the same fearlessness that usually came with confronting a murderer. "Black or white," he continued softly, "a sheep is still a sheep."

With what was almost a flourish, he placed the bright white hat upon his own head once more, pulling it low on his brows so that--despite its laughable size on him--the image presented was daunting. Sharp blue eyes glittered with muted mischief, laughing silently at the brand new trick they had played on their unsuspecting audience.

Kaito's jaw dropped. For a moment his expression was so blankly surprised that not even a good Poker Face would have saved him; he stared at the small top-hatted figure in amazement and something that bordered on appreciation. No one could have mistaken him for the notorious Kaitou Kid--instead, he rather resembled one of the fish he so hated, with round eyes and gaping mouth.

"What?" Shinichi asked in response to his cousin's astonished stare, his grin clearly becoming playful. "You did say it sort of suited me, didn't you?"

Kaito's mouth shut with a near-audible click. As he picked up his own scattered wits, he managed a smile of his own, accompanied by an accepting nod.

There was another knock on the painting-door of the secret room, which startled the two within. "Kaito?" came Fumiyo's somewhat-muffled voice from outside. "Dinner's ready--and I assume Shin-chan's going to be eating with us. Come on, you two!"

The two boys glanced at each other, still smiling; his confidence restored, Shinichi plucked the hat off his head, marched over to Kaito, and placed it back in the young thief's hands. "Well, you heard your mother," the little boy stated wryly, heading back for the door. "Let's go!"

Kaito stared at his hat for a moment, his fingers gripping the brim much like the smaller ones of his cousin had. His expression deepened, just for an instant--then he placed the hat back on its hook and followed his small companion, grinning once more. "Right. I'm right behind you."


To be continued...



AN: Happy Halloween! Thank you everyone for your generous patience while I got my act together and finished this chapter. Sorry to make you wait so long! Next time I had better get it done a bit faster, ne? Must kick myself into gear; it can be hard trying to keep two serials from one fandom straight inside one's head, especially with as many character Muses as I have running around. @_@ Wish me luck...

Also, major thankyous to Ysabet and Loqi for rescuing me with chapter title ideas! As always, y'all really saved my arse again. ^_^ Thankies much for your thoughts and suggestions! They gave me just what I needed and I really appreciate it!